Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Iowa TE Noah Fant threatened with a gun while at Omaha park

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Iowa tight end Noah Fant’s return home to Omaha, Nebraska for the summer became a lot more newsworthy than he would have liked this week.

According to a local police report, Des Moines TV station 13WHO reports that Fant was approached by a area man on Tuesday night who pointed a handgun at the sophomore football player and told him to leave the area:

Fant left the park and called police.  He initially told them he didn’t want to press charges but said if police were able to find him he would.  He told officers he believed the suspect lived in a house near the park because he’d seen the man before in the area.

As officers were searching the area near the park they spotted a man matching the description provided by Fant run into a home.  Police were able to talk to the man’s mother who convinced him to come to the door.  Officers reported the man, 23-year-old Matthew Trimble, was heavily intoxicated and placed him in the back of their cruiser for their own safety.  Trimble’s mother says her son told her that he had confronted a group he believed to be smoking marijuana in the park.  She agreed to turn over his handgun to officers.  Police say the gun was loaded with one round in the chamber and 11 in the magazine.

Trimble was later charged with one count of Making a Terroristic Threat with a Firearm after Fant identified that he was in fact the one who pulled the gun on him.

Luckily Fant (or anyone else) was not injured in the incident and everything eventually played out somewhat peacefully. The Omaha native caught nine passes for 70 yards and one touchdown last season for the Hawkeyes and is expected to return to the team later on.

School officials did not release a statement on the incident involving Fant but did tell Landof10 that they were looking into the matter as of Thursday evening.

Northwestern WR Solomon Vault reportedly set to miss 2017 season after surgery

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Northwestern’s task of replacing the Big Ten’s leading receiver from a year ago appeared to take a hit on Friday.

InsideNU reports that wide receiver Solomon Vault will miss the upcoming 2017 season after undergoing “lower body surgery” and will now take a redshirt for the year.

The speedy pass-catcher had 15 receptions for 164 yards and two touchdowns last season for the Wildcats and was expected to step up and see a big increase in targets with all-Big Ten receiver Austin Carr off to the NFL. In addition to his duties catching passes from Clayton Thorson, Vault was also Northwestern’s first choice at kick returner after scoring a whopping five touchdowns on returns in the past three years.

Assuming that Vault does indeed take 2017 off, he’ll have just one year left to play in 2018 as a redshirt senior.

The school has not yet confirmed the report about Vault but it certainly seems that the Wildcats’ special teams are set to take a hit going forward if he even misses part of the upcoming campaign for the program. It was already going to be difficult to replace so much production at receiver too and this bit of news will only server to reinforce that point as Northwestern enters their summer workout programs in the next few weeks.

LSU coaches set to learn DL Arden Key’s status for 2017 next week

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LSU is all set to learn whether or not they’ll have the services of one of the nation’s best pass rushers for the 2017 season.

That’s according to Tigers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who told reporters on Thursday that the coaching staff should learn defensive lineman Arden Key‘s status for the season next week.

“Arden’s been around, so I’ve seen Arden,” Aranda said, according to AL.com. “Arden’s looking good. We get back together next week with a full staff. … I anticipate at that time that we’ll hear about Arden’s direction and where he’s going and whether he’ll be with us or not.

“I’m very hopeful that he will be.”

Key announced back in February that he would be stepping away from the program this spring “for personal reasons.” It’s been vague as to what those reasons really are or if the edge rusher would even return to the field for LSU in 2017, but it appears we’ll know either way fairly soon. Key himself tweeted last month that he would not be sitting out his upcoming junior year — leading to speculation that he would indeed be back in the lineup for the Tigers.

Aranda’s comments also seem to indicate things moving in that direction but LSU fans and the rest of the opponents on the schedule will apparently have to wait another week in order to get confirmation on Key’s status for the upcoming season.

Lane Kiffin reportedly bringing Jim Harbaugh and Tennessee coaches to work FAU summer camp

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The calendar is just about ready to flip over to June and with that date change comes time to kick off plenty of summer camps for high school recruits around the country.

While all eyes will be on major outings such as USC’s annual Rising Stars Camp or Florida’s Friday Night Lights, there may be a smaller school’s camp that will draw just as much attention. The one in question? Well of course it would be Lane Kiffin’s first summer camp at Florida Atlantic.

While the draw of Kiffin alone is enough to elicit some higher than normal interest, the list of coaches tagging along for the Owls’ June 5th camp is even more eyebrow-raising than that of the hosts. Namely that includes Jim Harbaugh (and the rest of the Michigan staff per the Sun-Sentinelalong with a few familiar faces from the Tennessee staff, among others.

Yes, that’s right, Kiffin’s old employer is all set to buddy up with the ex-Vols coach down in Boca according to a report from FAUOwlAccess.com.

Given recent limits put on satellite camps by the NCAA, it certainly makes plenty of sense for schools like Michigan and Tennessee to send their staffs to work camps at places like FAU given the latter’s close proximity to so many top recruits. Likewise, it’s pretty understandable to see Kiffin bring in some even bigger names to his first summer camp in order to draw attention to the program he took over in the offseason.

Still, it should be more than a little interesting for many fans in the Volunteer State to see a few Tennessee coaches working alongside the man many blame for their program’s slide in recent years. It’s been several years (and coaching stops) since Kiffin left Knoxville so perhaps next month we’ll find out if time really does heal all wounds.

To the surprise of nobody though, FAU hasn’t even played a game under their new head coach and the Owls are already making waves and finding plenty of time in the national spotlight.